White House music shaped culture

NILES –The different type of music enjoyed by presidents and their wives at the White House has changed over the years from single piano performances to large lawn concerts.

“Music in the White House” was spotlighted at a recent program at the McKinley Memorial Library by Christopher Kenney, director of education from the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton.

Kenney used both audio and video clips of different musicians who have performed at the White House over the last two decades.

“The White House played a remarkable role in shaping our history with performances by many different musicians and groups who attended ceremonies for the presidents,” he said.

He said musical events first became a regular White House feature under President Theodore Roosevelt.

“Many innovations took place at this time. The first East Room piano was presented to the White House in 1903. Great pianists of the time were invited to perform at the White House,” he said.

The Roosevelts enjoyed performances by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Symphony Orchestra.

Helen Taft, wife of President William Howard Taft, preferred concert pianists while her husband liked the Tin Pan Alley songs.

Kenney said during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration the composer and pianist Percy Granger played performed at the White House.

Burl Ives provided songs for the American soldiers.

He said President Harry Truman studied piano from age 8 to 16 and had a love of music he had with him allhis life.

During President Dwight Eisenhower’s term, many military bands performed at state dinners. There was also performances by Guy Lombardo and Arthur Rubenstein who held concerts.

“The Kennedys made the White House a true showcase for the performing arts by inviting the media to the White House to cover cultural events which showcased performing art organizations. They placed a spotlight on the White House and encouraged public acceptance of the arts,” Kenney said.

Kenney said during the terms of presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter reflected a wider segment of American music culture than ever before with jazz, gospel, ragtime, and classical at official state dinners

“The state dinners always included entertainment, such as Pearl Bailey, the Captain and Tennille and Dizzy Gillespie,” he said.

During the Carter administration, there was a series of PBS shows starting in 1978 broadcasting from the White House.

“These performances helped shape our culture and history and foster an appreciation of music

Kenney said during President Ronald Reagan’s two terms, the White House had classical broadway, country, jazz and gospel. He said from the fall of 1986 to summer 1988, performances were on the White House lawn.

From 1993 to 1998, under President Bill Clinton more than 100 musical events took place from traditional and popular American music. Clinton himself played the saxophone on television.

During President Barrack Obama’s term, performers like Stevie Wonder sang and received an award.